Grab Some Courage, Drop Your Apathy and Make A Difference

Last week’s All School Meeting was a grave and stirring discussion of the current genocide in Darfur. The speakers did not waste time boring their audience with a history lesson, but proved themselves both informed and engaging: the entire school managed to stay awake throughout the speeches. At one point, Mark Hannis, one of the presenters, quoted the movie Hotel Rwanda. In one scene, an American cameraman talks to a Rwandan woman about the atrocities occurring. She says that she hopes the footage he has shot will inspire Americans to take action to stop the genocide. He responds with worldly cynicism: “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible.’ And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.” I think people heard this all school meeting and they said “Oh my God, that’s horrible.” And then they went on with their day. Everyone did. It is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have to deal with classes and tests and homework and lives. But it made me wonder: where is student activism at Phillips Academy? Maybe the campus is so quiet because a president is not being elected this November, or because the issues in question feel remote, lying far outside our high school bubble. Why worry about Social Security until we have to? Iraq is a distant country. We are not being drafted; our futures our secure at home in America. A numb concern and a half-hearted position on the mess we have made overseas are often the most anyone has to offer. Where are the signs and the rallies? How about the rebellious, opinionated Andover students of years past? Concern for racking up an impressive list of extracurriculars, hours of community service and clean records takes precedence over knowing what is going on in the world by reading the paper, watching the news, or forming opinions about laws and world leaders. Mr. Hannis told another anecdote last Wednesday. He explained how he and his buddies “didn’t allow school to get in the way of education.” After hearing about genocide, they cut class to do research, “grew facial hair” and barely graduated. He went on to create a successful organization to fight an injustice he cares passionately about. At Andover, a great deal of energy is devoted to another passionate goal: getting into college. You would be hard pressed to find a student who would willingly blow off class to instead help try to stop a cultural massacre in a third world country. Not only because the task sounds near impossible, but because catching up on missed work would be just another obstacle to getting the grades needed to get into that first-choice Ivy League. Years ago, students cut class without such a politically correct reason. They wouldn’t think twice about skipping a test to go to a rally. The yearbook would openly make fun of the administration; The Phillipian would print scandalous editorials and mocking pictures of the headmaster. Students today should not necessarily revive these types of “activism,” but a healthy spirit of insubordination against the overarching goal of the institution would do us all some good.